Historically, the representation of women in Canadian politics has been limited due to gender bias. As in many other countries, men governed the political system, while women were supposed to perform other daily tasks. However, the world has changed, and more and more women are willing to participate in politics nowadays. Since 1921, when Agnes Campbell Macphail became the first woman elected to the House of Commons and the Parliament of Canada, the number of women in Canadian politics has increased (Loprespub, 2021). Thus, in November 2021, “women represented 49% of all senators […] and 30.5% of all members of the House of Commons” (Loprespub 2021, para. 2). Despite such changes in the political system of Canada, women are still underrepresented in politics due to the socialization process, the sexualization of women, and the male-dominated political institutions.
The socialization process negatively affects the representation of women in Canadian politics since it is based on engraved gender stereotypes and discrimination. Women are socialized to perform household duties and raise children, while men have to be strong, focus on their careers, and attain professional success (Kosakowska-Berezecka et al. 2017, 2). In Canada, women are more likely to take care of their families than men, which is one of the main underlying conditions for not developing their careers (4). Thus, Canadian women spend about 254 minutes a day “cooking, cleaning, and caring for children, whereas men spend 160 min on the same tasks” (4). Through the socialization process, both genders are taught to perform and promote their gender-associated roles.
Moreover, society informs these gender roles and creates barriers to women’s political involvement. In Western cultures, men received higher statuses in public spaces and, consequently, were considered more powerful and authoritative in these spaces (Galandy & Tavcer, 2019, p. 14). In comparison, women’s roles were diminished, and their attributes were not associated with political power (14). For this reason, even if women gain access to the political ladder, they will feel constrained and have fewer chances to move to a higher rung due to such disparities in power and gender roles. Those women who manage to succeed in Canadian politics are often perceived as more masculine, and their behavior is characterized as aggressive and attacking even when it is not so (Thomas, 2013, p. 226). These prejudices and stereotypes prevent Canadian women from entering the political system and competing with men.
The sexualization of female politicians is another barrier to women’s participation in Canadian politics. Women were treated as sexual objects from the first days of their service in Parliament. For example, in the 1980s-1990s, Liberal Sheila Copps and other female members of Parliament (MPs) were treated to sexist commentaries like “slut,” “dear,” “bitch,” “fishwife,” and others (Collier & Raney, 2018, p. 446). When in 1990, the sexist culture of the Canadian Parliament reached its peak, female MPs organized the Association of Women Parliamentarians (AWP) and requested the Speaker to expand his powers to better discipline those who used sexist, racist, or homophobic language (446). However, their request was not satisfied, and the House of Parliament did not include the words mentioned above in the sexist or other un-parliamentary categories. Thus, the male-dominated Parliament continued to practice the sexualization of women, demonstrating aggressive behavior, sexual harassment, and dominance over female MPs.
Similarly, women receive more criticism and are portrayed as sexual objects by the Canadian media. For example, women’s physical appearance and personal relationships are more criticized and scrutinized than men’s (Thomas, 2013, p. 226). The press usually ignores female politicians who demonstrate a more conciliatory tone in debates (226). Instead, the media sexualizes female bodies, depicting them as “passive objects of male sexual desire rather than as active subjects,” situating them as “outsiders to political life” (Trimble et al., 2015, p. 325). As a result, women have to conform to various evaluation standards to participate in political life, and many of them cannot withstand such pressure and refuse to try.
Finally, the political institutions create barriers to female participation in politics as they are unwilling to adjust to changes. Every political party has its own beliefs and mandates regarding gender roles and responsibilities and gender equality in politics (Everitt, 2015, p. 181). Thus, some parties believe that men and women should compete for a political nomination based on merits, while other parties, like NDP (New Democratic Party), ensure that all candidates have equal opportunities (181). Moreover, some parties may exclude women from political campaigns because they believe men will perform better. Consequently, women are less likely to run political campaigns due to the existing order in political institutions and the treatment they receive from their male counterparts.
At the same time, some may argue that the percentage of women participating in Canadian politics has increased significantly, which means that all the barriers mentioned above are not the reasons for women to give up. Thus, in the 2021 Elections Canada, 43 percent of candidates were women, which is more than ever before (Dunham 2021, para. 3). The highest percentage of women is in NDP – 52 percent, while the other parties, including the Bloc Quebecois, the Green Party, the Liberals, and the Conservatives, have also increased their percentage of female candidates (Dunham, 2021). It means that the Canadian political system has changed, and women have gained more opportunities to participate in it.
Even though the number of women in politics has increased, they are still underrepresented. Despite all changes and achievements of female activists in the political system and other spheres of life, women have to overcome numerous barriers on their way to the political ladder. Thus, the concept of a “sacrificial lamb” can be applied to many women recruited as political candidates (Galandy & Tavcer, 2019, p. 15). Research by Thomas and Bodet (2013) showed that all parties were likely to nominate female politicians in seats they could not win (154). Even though women are mostly discriminated against before Election Day, this discrimination is the main barrier to their representation in Canadian politics.
Having analyzed the representation of Canadian women in the political system, one can conclude that female politicians are still underrepresented. Although Canada is a democratic society that promotes equality and inclusiveness, many factors contribute to gender biases and discrimination. Thus, the socialization process enables gender roles that were established many centuries ago. Women are perceived as weak and uncertain persons whose main duties are to take care of their families and perform other feminine functions. Moreover, the sexualization of women in politics and the press is another barrier to the political ladder.
Finally, the political institutions have their own beliefs and views of gender equality, discouraging women from participating in political campaigns. The situation could be solved if parties began to nominate equal numbers of men and women and stopped making women run as sacrificial lambs. To attain this goal, women should continue to fight for gender equality and teach their sons and daughters that there are no masculine or feminine professions and that all are equal.
Collier, Cheryl N., and Tracey Raney. “Understanding Sexism and Sexual Harassment in Politics: Comparison of Westminster Parliaments in Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada.” Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State and Society 25, no. 3(2018): 432-455.
Dunham, Jackie. “Highest Percentage Ever of Female and Gender-Diverse Candidates Running in This Election”. Web.
Everitt, Joanna. “Gender and Sexual Diversity in Provincial Election Campaigns.” Canadian Political Science Review 9, no. 1(2015), 177-192.
Galandy, Jennifer, and D. Scharie Tavcer. “Improving Gender Representation in Canadian Federal Politics and Parliament.” Canadian Parliamentary Review 42(1): 14-19.
Kosakowska-Berezecka, Natasza, Saba Safdar, Paweł Jurek, and Gopa Bhardwaj. “Evaluations of Men in Domestic Roles in Canada, Norway, Poland, and India.” Journal of Men’s Studies 26, no. 2(2017): 143-156.
Loprespub. “Women in the Parliament of Canada: 100 Years of Representation”. Web.
Thomas, Melanee. “Barriers to Women’s Political Participation in Canada.” University of New Brunswick Law Journal 64, no. 64(2013): 219-233.
Thomas, Melanee, and Marc André Bodet. “Sacrificial Lambs, Women Candidates, and District Competitiveness in Canada.” Electoral Studies 32, no. 1(2013): 153-166.
Trimble, Linda, Daisy Raphael, Shannon Sampert, Angelia Wagner, and Bailey Gerrits. “Politicizing Bodies: Hegemonic Masculinity, Heteronormativity, and Racism in News Representations of Canadian Political Party Leadership Candidates.” Women’s Studies in Communication 38, no. 3(2015): 314-330.